Giant Turkish flags and images of Ataturk again adorn the sides of the university hospital, classroom, and administrative buildings. Today, the Turks remember the beginning of one of their earliest and greatest military victories, Gallipoli. In a 10-month campaign, thousands of Turks lost their lives to protect the valuable Dardanelles (Gallipoli) Strait that leads directly to Istanbul. It would be this victory that would help preserve Istanbul and much of what is now modern Turkey.
The Turks mark the anniversary on the 18th of March, one month before the Allies landed and began their ground assault. They do it at that time because it’s when they defeated the Allied Navy who tried to enter the strait, but suffered heavy losses from mines and other complications. The French and English lost six ships in the attack. They turned around after that day, and gave up the Naval battle.
Every story seems to have its heroes, and in Gallipoli, there were many. For the Turks, one of its legendary soldiers was Corporal Seyid. According to lore, during the March 18 naval invasion, a crane that lifted 125lb shells into guns stopped working. Individual accounts tell of Corporal Seyid carrying one of the remaining shells on his back and lifting it onto one of the heavy caliber guns. A statue of him holding the shell now overlooks the strait he defended. Today, many Turks across the country remember the sacrifices of soldier like Corporal Seyid.
“We celebrate today,” said Fatma Bozdag, a student in one of my classes, “Because it is the day our grandfathers went to die.”
Bozdag refers to the now legendary order in Turkey by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to his 57th regiment during the ground campaign, “I do not order you to attack, I order you to die.” And nearly all of them did, along with thousands of others according to battlefield accounts.
The Gallipoli campaign lasted from April 25, 1915 to January 9, 1916, it was a costly assault for both the Allies and Ottomans. Exact numbers have never been determined because of the chaotic nature of the trench battle, but estimates for Turkish casualties hover around 250,000 with at least 60,000 dead due to injuries, disease, or complications of both. ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) forces also suffered heavy casualties at Gallipoli. They honor their soldiers on April 25, the anniversary of the ANZAC landing and assault.
It would be Ataturk who would win the greatest fame for leading the Ottoman army through the horrific ground campaign. According to Andrew Mango’s biography on Ataturk, the victory in Gallipoli would set the foundation for Ataturk’s career. The fame and respect he earned from this victory would spread through the military ranks, and help Ataturk greatly when he would ultimately organize his own nationalist movement for the formation of the Turkish Republic.
NOTE: This article was first published for “Today’s Zaman,” an English daily newspaper in Turkey. View the article as it originally appeared here.
If you were driving by ancient Troy, you would never know it today. Surrounded by hectares of green farms and olive groves, the broken walls of Troy hardly rise above the brush.
Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” immortalize the city as being the scene of one of ancient history’s bloodiest wars. According to Homer’s tale, the Trojan War lasted 10 years and pitted great warriors such as Achilles and Odysseus of Greece and Hector and Paris of Troy against each other. It was allegedly fought over a woman, Helen of Troy, who was smuggled from Greece by Paris. Although there is not much to look at today besides a dozen or so walls and a small theater, the settlement is reportedly over 4,000 years old and represents one of the treasures of Turkey’s grand inheritance.
Over 100 archaeological sites are spread out across Turkey’s rich landscape. Nine of Turkey’s historic places are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Troy is one and is where I met self-proclaimed Trojan and guide Mustafa Aşkın.
“I consider myself a true Trojan,” Aşkın proudly said from his office located alongside his brother’s all-in-one restaurant, hotel and souvenir shop.
Aşkın has been leading groups through Troy since 1978. Aşkın said Troy is his passion. The clutter of books on Troy and archaeology, artists’ renderings of the city and maps in Aşkın’s office are indicative of that. Aşkın grew up in the small village of Hisarlık, where he and his father herded sheep over the same hill that Troy lay buried beneath.
“[My friends and I] used to go through the fields and used to collect some coins, Roman coins,” remembered Aşkın about his first encounter with Troy. “We used to sell them to the tourists, which I feel sorry about now; it’s a shame.”
Aşkın said as a boy, he and his friends knew little about the special nature of the place, although it had attracted many archaeologists and tourists. Aşkın said his father told him that the people came because it was a holy place. They were making a pilgrimage.
“I never understood what was special about that rubble,” said Aşkın.
Today, Aşkın knows more about Troy than most of Turkey’s residents. He initially pursued medicine. However, test scores pushed him into economics in İstanbul and then to London for English training. Costs and a lack of scholarships brought him to his brother Hasan’s small shop next to the ruins of Troy. Aşkın decided to sign up to be a tour guide, and that is where his passion emerged and flourished.
“When I started researching [for my thesis on Troy], I said: ‘Oh my God! This is a vast subject and so interesting.’ I could not stop reading,” Aşkın said excitedly.
Since then, he’s published two guidebooks about Troy and an autobiography. Aşkın hopes that his work will help people understand Troy and respect the site more. He mentioned Turkey’s up and down relationship with its ancient history.
“I’m ashamed to say that in the past, for example, there were some governments, some [people] that simply refused and said the paganism period was not our history. Troy was not our history,” Aşkın said regrettably.
Indeed, the Anatolian plains are littered with ancient Neolithic, Bronze Age, Greco-Roman and Islamic sites, but unfortunately not all have been preserved well. The TAY Project, an independent group of archaeologists and specialists who have monitored Turkey’s settlements since 1993, have filed reports of hundreds of settlements disturbed by treasure hunters and development operations. The protection of a 7,000 year-old settlement in Bardakçıtepe was removed to permit the building of a six-story apartment complex. The world’s oldest known thermal city, Allianoi, near Bergama, is also under immediate threat from the floodwaters of a new dam. Turkey faces the challenge of modernizing while also holding on to priceless historic settlements.
Today, Aşkın hopes that Turkey will take better care of its inherited treasures. He believes that today, there is more protection of sites like Troy. However, a large part of the improvements came from Troy’s chief sponsor, Daimler-Chrysler, which declared bankruptcy last April. Troy also benefits from being a popular tourist destination. Aşkın said he hopes teams will continue to excavate the hill and that Turkey will make sure that the city is protected before and after excavations are made.
Aşkın reminded his audience that Turks are not homogeneous. “When [the Turkic peoples] came from Central Asia, they mixed with these people. Now, to today’s Turkish people, I say: We are Trojans, we are Hittites, we are Greeks, we are Armenians, we are Lydians, Phrygians … we are the descendents of those ancient people.”
Turkey’s monumental inheritance is easily evident in Hisarlık where two of history’s most damaging battles were fought. The Trojan War, which entrenched the Greek Empire, theoretically occurred just off its shores, while only 20 kilometers away across the strait, the Gallipoli campaign occurred where some say the groundwork for the Republic of Turkey began as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk successfully defended the Dardanelles from the invading allied forces.
Residents like Aşkın stand ready to usher guests and Turkish citizens through Turkey’s grand inheritance.
While living abroad, the biggest shock to my system has been getting used to not having the food I used to eat regularly while eating foods I never knew existed until arriving in Turkey. One thing I’ve done to lessen the culture shock is to find foods in Turkey that resemble some of my favorite foods back home. One of my favorites is Pastirma (Pahs-teer-ma), or what I lovingly call, Turkish Bacon.
Pastirma is a cured meat, usually beef although some sources also indicated mutton and goat have been used in its history. You’ll never find Pastirma with Pork as Turkey is 98 percent Muslim. And, even some less religiously inclined Turkish friends have admitted to me that they view the pig as an disgusting animal and wouldn’t eat it if they had the choice.
Pastirma has a rich history, and it’s origin according to the Turkish Cultural Foundation goes back hundreds of years when Turkish horseman would pack the meat in their saddlebags. The meat would be “pressed” during the ride and ready for consumption by the time the rider was ready to eat it. Pastirma comes from the Turkish word “to press.” The Pastirma from Kayseri, my home city, is the center of Pastirma production for Turkey. Someone once told me that the Greeks would visit Kayseri for their “pastirmaki.”
Today, the Greeks and Italians have developed their own style of curing the meat and call it…pastrami.
Pastirma can be prepared as sausages, fillets, or in paper thin strips resembling, you guessed it, bacon! There are between 19 and 26 varieties of Pastirma cuts depending on the animal. The meat is cured with salts and then in a smelly reddish spice called Çemen (chey-men). The Çemen has a strong smell that many warned me about long before my first taste, but unlike garlic, it’s a smell I’m easily willing to endure for the delicious product at the end. The meat takes about 30 days to prepare for eating, but once ready, it’s a deliciously spicy meat that soothes my bacon-aching stomach.
The 17th Century Ottoman (Turkish) traveler Evliya Çelebi (Chey-leb-ii) praised Kayseri’s production of the meat in his journal, saying “(Kayseri) has produced an enviable reputation around the world with its Pastirma.” The legacy continues today with two major producers of Pastirma in Kayseri, Şahin and Başyazıcı.
Pardon the pun, but in terms of Pastirma, living in Kayseri has been a treat.